The National Trust has finally published its widely flagged report into which of the houses it has been bequeathed are tarnished by associations with slavery or the evil that is colonialism. My late grandfather, Sir John Winnifrith, will be – yet again – spinning in his grave. The report is a predictably dire and academically flawed document but the sort of exercise in self-flagellation that has become compulsory for guilty white, Guardian reading, liberals in 2020. If the report itself was not bad enough, the coverage of it by the BBC was excruciating and another reason why we must #defundthebbc. But we must now also #DefundtheNationalTrust.
As you may know, my grandfather, the Bennite Sir John Winnifrith, was director general of the National Trust. He also served in Churchill’s war bunker as the great man led this country’s resistance to the Nazis. So Sir John would have been shocked to see Churchill’s old house, Chartwell, in the 93 houses of shame. The reason:
Chartwell was the family home of Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965) from 1922 until his death. One of the longest-serving political figures in British history, he was Prime Minister twice (1940– 5 and 1951–5), famously during the Second World War – a period that coincided with the Bengal Famine of 1943. Leading historians, such as Robert Rhodes James, comment that Churchill lived an ‘exceptionally long, complex, and controversial life’. He served as Secretary of State for the Colonies (1921–2) and helped to draft the Anglo-Irish Treaty at the time of the creation of the Irish Free State. However, Churchill opposed the granting of Dominion status to India, voting against the India Bill in 1935.
So Churchill was on balance not a national Hero but a racist imperialist and so his house is on the roll of shame. Is his role in agreeing to the partition of Ireland a mark of shame? Are only those who backed the purist approach of the IRA good guys?
Also shamed is Bodiam castle where my Grandfather used to take me as a boy. Its role in colonialism etc? Er it was a near ruin when it was bought by someone who owned slaves in 1828 and then in due course given to the nation. Had this slave owner not spent 3,000 guineas on Bodiam in 1828, it would have fallen into the moat built with the castle hundreds of years previously.
And so it goes on and on and on. Close to my father is Charlecote Park where its infamy is hilarious:
Charlecote Park has been home to the Lucy family since the late twelfth century.
The current house was built by Sir Thomas Lucy (c.1532–1600) in the 1550s. His great-great-grandson Thomas Lucy (c.1655–84) inherited the property in 1677 and served as Captain of the Household Guards during the Dutch Wars of the 1670s. A portrait by Godfrey Kneller (1646/9–1723) in the National Trust’s collection depicts Lucy with an unidentified young black groom or page wearing a metal collar (inventory number NT 533847). Parish records list the baptism in 1735 of Philip Lucy, a six-year-old black boy. More research is needed on his relationship, if any, to the Lucy household. Evidence from neighbouring parishes reveals the presence of black people in Warwickshire during this period.
George Hammond Lucy (1789–1845) inherited Charlecote in 1823 and, with his wife Mary Elizabeth Williams (1803–90), decorated the house with objects bought at the sale of William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey (which is not owned by the National Trust). Beckford’s immense wealth derived from sugar plantations he inherited in Jamaica
George and Mary Elizabeth’s daughter, Caroline (1828–64), married Captain Charles Pawlett Lane (1828–1910), who served during the 1857 siege of Lucknow under General Henry Havelock (1795–1857).
Charlecote’s collection includes a number of objects associated with the siege of Lucknow in India including an eighteenth-century silver dress sword and scabbard presented to Mary Elizabeth Lucy (1803–89) by her son-in-law Major-General Charles Powlett Lane (1826–1910) who participated in the siege in 1857.
Right to the crime sheet here is
a) there is a painting of a family member with a boy who is black but who cannot be the black boy referred to as having been christened in the parish. There is no record of who this black boy was or of his relationship to the Lucy family.
That is truly damning. Worse still.
b) The Lucy family bought some items for Charlecote from another house where the owner had owned plantations.
Cripes I have got a photo of Peter Tatchell in my study… does that make me gay? This is ludicrous. But best of all.
c) The owner’s son in law fought in the siege of Lucknow where no doubt the colonial Britishers were slaughtering Indian women and children. Well actually it was the other way round. Mr Pewlett Lane was either defending civilians in the residency or in the relief columns sent to life the siege. Pewlett lane was not, as the Trust insists, participating in the siege but in the lifting of the siege. There is a big difference.
The evil Britishers were keen that the 1200 civilians trapped at Lucknow did not meet the same fate as the women and children at Cawnpore a few months previously. The evil Britishers also had the decency not to knock down religious buildings even though they provided cover for snipers. Having fought in what was a heroic and virtuous action, Pewlett Lane then brought back some souvenirs.
The National Trust automatically assumes all British military action was evil. If only it had any regard for academic discipline. My grandfather would have been appalled. No wonder folks are threatening to cancel NT memberships and legacies.
So how did the wretched BBC News report it? Apparently this dossier is a bit controversial we were told by reporter Celestina Olulode. So far so good. She then adds “critics say a lot should have been done sooner”.
That is not quite true, is it? Some critics reckon this report should have been done sooner. Other critics think that an organisation sacking 1200 staff amid a cash crisis should spend every cent it has retaining staff and saving buildings and that this report is not needed at all. Other critics think that it is academically very weak indeed. What other country on this planet would regard a figure like Churchill as a man to be shamed? Celestina says that she is a lover of history. In this case, should she not have quizzed the Trust over Lucknow or over Churchill?
I am not, for a second, arguing that the British Empire was all good. Hell’s teeth I identify as Irish but this self-loathing that drives folks to say the Empire was all bad and that Lucknow has to be a mark of shame as it involves Brits in India is just insane.
Celestina went to say that “there are strong views on both sides on what do so with this history.” Indeed. She then interviewed a chap from the slavery museum who, we can assume, spoke for one side and then for balance? Er. Nobody.